Author Archives: chaugh

Diary of a Semi-Part-Time T Rider

In Boston, the transit system is consistently ranked as one of the best in the country among New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington D.C. It’s so wonderful to live in a place where public transportation is so easily accessible. As someone who was used to driving everywhere in Texas, it is a refreshing change to be able to walk or ride most places, especially since I cannot drive in Boston.

Disclaimer: I say I cannot drive because I really have not figured out the Boston rules of the road — and frankly, they are so aggressive that I’m uncomfortable just learning on the job.

In any case, I’ve become a fairly regular bus and train rider. As I was commuting into my office last week, it hit me that there is an unspoken code on the bus and train that can take a while to interpret. Here’s an initial breakdown of some of this code (based on my own experience):

  1. Don’t talk to strangers (or really make eye contact) unless you have to*
  2. Lose any notion you have of personal space.
  3. Give yourself at least 10-15 minutes of wiggle time when trying to end up at a destination at a specific time.
  4. If it doesn’t look like you can fit on the train, you probably can’t but others will try. In that case, see number 2.
  5. Be prepared to give up your seat for seniors, those with disabilities or injuries or children.
  6. Wait until you’re off the bus or train to make your call.
  7. Bring a book or grab the Metro — you never know if there will be delays.
  8. Always carry some cash — in case your forget your T pass or run low on the amount.

*This is based on personal experience — as someone that grew up in the South, I’m accustomed to starting a conversation with strangers about the weather, how’s UT going to do today, I heard you mention xyz and I just ate there or visited, etc. Let’s just say it’s a Southern charm/hospitality thing. Not necessarily an acceptable practice on the T in Boston.

I’m sure there are plenty more but these are a good start. Honestly with so many people using public transportation in Boston, you never really know what your fellow passengers are dealing with from a personal or professional level. Once you force everyone into a small space together, things can get a bit stressful and frustrating. It’s important though to try to take things with a grain of salt — and when riding the T, remember the above rules.

Do you have others that should be added to this list? Add them to the comments section below.


Surviving in Hoth: Part 2

Mandy and Joe's - photo credit: Boston.com

Mandy and Joe’s – photo credit: Boston.com

I just got back from a long weekend in Jamaica to celebrate a friend’s wedding. The weather, while rainy at times, was in the 70s and 80s so you can imagine that coming back to the aftermath of a snowfall and an impending snowstorm was a bit of a shock.  Thankfully, there’s a lot of great local restaurants nearby that are helping to ease the cooped up feeling that comes as a result of these winter storms. With that in mind, this is the second part of my Surviving in Hoth series and today, I want to spotlight a local diner: Mandy and Joe’s Delicatessen.

Only a few doors down from Porter Belly’s (see my previous post), in Brighton Center, Mandy and Joe’s is one of my favorite breakfast spots. It consistently offers great home cooking with staples like hash and eggs, omelets, pancakes and french toast. It still looks like a 50s-style diner on the inside, giving you the instant impression that the staff knows what they are doing. The diner also serves sandwiches at lunch but I’ve never actually tried them. I prefer to stick with my favorite: breakfast.

While I’ve tried most of the breakfast menu, I usually end up deciding between two eggs with bacon, toast and homefries or hash and eggs. Keep in mind: this breakfast is not for anyone on a diet. You’re always going to get a good portion and plenty of butter.

It’s hard to describe the greatness of Mandy and Joe’s but here’s a quick story of a personal experience I’ve had at the restaurant. Around Mother’s Day last year, Mandy and Joe’s introduced a special item: stuffed french toast with strawberries. Of course, I order this to give it a try and while chatting with the chef (and I believe, owner) Ingrid, she was curious how I liked the special. After telling her how great it was, she proceeded to give me the recipe. I mean, how many places will just tell you how they make their food? Not many.

Just a few things to remember if you’re going to give Mandy and Joe’s a try: it’s cash only. If you’re in a hurry, Mandy and Joe’s does do pick up orders (even for full breakfast plates, not just breakfast sandwiches). If you go on the weekend, keep in mind that Mandy and Joe’s is in an area full of college kids, so anywhere between 10:00 am and 12:00 pm could be busy.


Surviving in Hoth: Part 1

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Image credit: Porter Belly’s

Over the past few weeks, the U.S. has been hit hard with record breaking cold temperatures and snow storms. While the Midwest seems to be getting the brunt of the storms, Boston has been slammed with quite a few. When snow storms hit Boston, most of the population becomes housebound, as the roads are just too difficult (and often times too dangerous) to drive on. It’s times like these that I’m glad I live in a place with great public transportation and that I’m walking distance from some really good eateries. As such, I thought this would be a good time to look at some of the local restaurants in Brighton that I frequent and that take in the stir crazy after a storm with a new series I’m calling: Surviving in Hoth (a reference to the snow and ice planet in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, in case you’re not a nerd like me and don’t recognize the name).

First up: Porter Belly’s Pub

Porter Belly’s, located in the heart of Brighton Center, has been my local watering hole since I moved here in 2010. It’s a laid-back Irish pub with a good selection of drinks and food. There are a lot of “pubs” in Boston, since the Irish population is very prevalent here. However, Porter Belly’s is unique. It’s one of those places that has a very welcoming atmosphere, which in my opinion, can be a difficult note to strike. I personally am not a huge fan of bars that are overly “townie” (i.e. dominated by locals that have lived in the neighborhood all their lives and tend to give attitude or looks to outsiders), too trendy, uptight or dominated by college students (which can be tough in a neighborhood like Brighton, that draws in college kids with lower rental rates). To me, Porter Belly’s doesn’t fall into any of these buckets but rather it’s customers and staff are a diverse mix of the population of Boston. When I describe the bar to my out-of-town friends, I frequently say that the bar reminds me of McClaren’s from How I Met Your Mother, which is fitting for this blog, right?

Outside of the atmosphere and customer base, Porter Belly’s offers a great food menu with burgers, sandwiches, salads and dinner options. The burgers are always fantastic — I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the food really — but somewhat unexpected to those who have never been to the pub is it’s Chicken Curry. The dish is made up of a yellow curry that packs a lot of flavor, but not too much spice, with generous portions of chicken, carrots, peas, onions and peppers on top of either rice, french fries or both. I always recommend this to those looking for something to warm them up, which right now, is a number one priority. However, if you’re not sure about the curry, try getting a side of the sauce with your burger or sandwich for your fries.

I could go on and on about Porter Belly’s because it’s one of my favorites, clearly. However, I’ll let you decide for yourselves. In my opinion, it’s one of Brighton (and Boston’s) bests and you can rely on them to be open, even during some intense snow storms.*

*Disclaimer: I recommend checking their Facebook page to look at updated hours during storms but at least, during the last few major storms, they’ve found a way to open their doors…if not during the storm itself, a few hours after it’s over. 


2013 in a Nutshell

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Credit: Google Images

Wow — it’s been a while since I’ve posted to the blog. Let’s just say that 2013 has been a whirlwind of a year. Not only have I continued to explore Boston, in all it’s glory, but on a personal note, I got engaged, started a new job and adopted a dog. It’s been an incredible year but 2014 is going to blow it out of the water…I can already tell. I was thinking about how to best kick start my postings again and remembered that over the past few years I’ve been writing on this blog, I’ve started the year with resolutions. Well, let’s say goals (I personally think resolutions are made to be broken so why not make changes more achievable?). Before I create a list of places to visit and things to eat, I wanted to take a quick look back at what I was able to accomplish in 2013. 

*Note: anything crossed out was done in 2013. 

Food:

  1. Blue Ribbon
  2. Erbaluce
  3. Regal Begal
  4. Giacomo’s
  5. South End Buttery
  6. Bee Hive
  7. Silvertone

Places/Activities:

  1. Harpoon or Sam Adams Brewery Tour
  2. Bunker Hill
  3. Boston Public Library
  4. Marathon Monday
  5. Fall Foliage/Leaf Peeping
  6. Corn Maze
  7. Haunted Boston Bus Tour
  8. Celtics or Bruins Game
  9. Institute of Contemporary Art

Based on the above, it doesn’t seem like I did much in 2013 but I think one of my downfalls was that I haven’t updated this list since the beginning of the year. Thinking about everything I did last year, there’s definitely much more here than meets the eye. For 2014, I’m going to leave my “places” list the same but I’d like to revise my food list, since it’s gotten quite small since I created it in 2012. More to come on my eating goals for the year. Of course, if you have recommendations, please leave them in the comments section. 

Happy New Year! Stay warm, Boston!


Activity Time: Touring the Harpoon Brewery

Harpoon UFO White

Harpoon UFO White

Full disclosure: I am not what’s known as a beer nerd. I just enjoy fun activities so if you are a self proclaimed beer nerd, please don’t judge the following adventures of a novice too harshly.

One of the most well known beers tied to Boston is Sam Adams. The brewery is located in Jamaica Plain and from what I’ve heard from locals, the tour is so-so. I know a lot of tourists come out and visit the brewery, so it’s certainly on my activity must list, at which time I will rank it appropriately!

However, another popular brew in Boston comes from the Harpoon Brewery. Harpoon is known for its IPA (or India Pale Ale, for those non-beer connoisseurs out there). In any case, I’ve tried various kinds of Harpoon and have always been told to visit the brewery, especially since I’ve visited a few others in my travels including Cape Cod Brewery, Shipyard, Allagash and Red Hook.

The Harpoon Brewery is out in the Seaport and the company recently renovated an area of its building, turning it into a beer hall. I’m not sure how the tours and experience was prior to the opening of the beer hall but now, Harpoon seemed to take a page out of Disney World’s book. The line you enter to purchase your tickets for the brewery tour winds around one section of the bar, where guests can purchase samples or glasses of beers on tap. This was actually a really great idea since you can see the other section of the beer hall, where guests are already comfortable, munching on snacks or sipping a cold one — you essentially avoid having any beer envy while you wait.

While the tickets for the brewery tour are first come first serve (and cost only $5), and you can’t get them online before arriving, the line set up helped calm our fears of the tours being sold out on a Saturday. However, I will say, if you want to take a tour on the weekends, definitely get to the brewery early and pick up tickets. The staff allows you to pick your tour time so you could pick your time for later in the day, after a scrumptious lunch in the Seaport.

Waiting in the beer hall, you sit at big wooden picnic tables, and while it gets a bit loud (because the ceilings are fairly high), it’s actually pretty pleasant. If you have time to kill, definitely get a pretzel. The pretzels are made with the grain used to make the beer and its soaked in or cooked in Harpoon’s IPA. Whatever they are made of, they were fantastic — and you get a choice of two dipping sauces which were equally yummy.

Harpoon Beer - Packaged and Ready to Send

Harpoon Beer – Packaged and Ready to Send

The tour itself was pretty fantastic. While I’ve take a few brewery tours before this, I have to say that this was one of the best. The tour is approximately an hour, and our tour guides were just the right kind of sarcastic and knowledgable about the beer that was being made. You could tell they loved beer (which I think also makes a huge difference). I doubt I accurately remember all the interesting factoids about the brewery (just look above when I talked about the pretzels — that was a tidbit picked up from the tour), so I won’t repeat any others here. However, at the very end of the tour, you get 20 minutes in a private tasting room, where you can sample various flavors and types of beers currently on tap.

Overall, I would recommend the brewery tour for anyone looking for a laid back activity in Boston — and definitely, for those who have taken the tour, a visit to the beer hall. I don’t think the beer hall is a place that you can hang out all day but its worth a stop by.


My Maine Squeeze: 48 Hours in Portland

In April, my now fiance and I had a chance to get away for a long weekend but with a summer of weddings around the US ahead of us, decided that a New England getaway would be perfect. The destination? Portland, Maine.

Portland is only three hours from Boston and from what I had previously heard, is very similar to Austin in its laid back atmosphere, local boutiques and passionate foodies. It seemed like a fantastic destination to explore and relax.

We managed to stay at a waterfront hotel and easily walk around the downtown area, which was an incredible backdrop for the entire trip. Even though we went out to visit in mid-April, there was actually a snowstorm warning (which may not be that shocking if you are from New England) and it was fairly overcast/rainy most of the time we were there. However, that didn’t stop us from exploring.

Oysters from J's Oyster

Oysters from J’s Oyster

First stop, the Allagash brewery. The brewery is located outside of downtown, about 15-20 minutes, and the tours of the facility are free. The best part of the tour was the tasting, which provided us with a rich history of the beers and the technique used to create them before we made our way through the facility. If you get a chance to get out to Maine, I would definitely recommend a stop at Allagash. In fact, Portland has a plethora of breweries including Shipyard. If you’re a beer connoisseur, Portland is a destination for you. And if you love beer and are looking for a place to get hitched, Shipyard appeared to have a mini chapel in its building downtown. (Just saying.)

Allagash Brewery Tour

Allagash Brewery Tour

On the food side, we manage to hit several restaurants in the city. Gritty McDuffs was an excellent little restaurant that brews its own beer with insanely good Poutine (gravy and cheese fries). Similar to Gritty McDuffs, we also stopped at a restaurant called the Thirsty Pig where we found a wide assortment of beers and an delicious menu of German food (primarily, homemade speciality sausage). Another must stop that I had heard about was J’s Oyster, where I stuffed my face with fresh oysters caught that morning. Lastly, we had an incredible meal at Fore Street, a phenomenal restaurant that  creates its dishes from local ingredients. It was by far the priciest meal that we ate but it was one of those places that you won’t regret dropping a little extra for.

The Thirsty Pig

The Thirsty Pig

While overall, we both had a great time in Portland, we picked a terrible time to visit. We were unable to visit many local sites and museums because they do not open until after Memorial Day. So, I’m of the opinion that I’ll need to go back and see everything there is to see in Portland. However, the weekend will still always hold a special place in my heart because this was the weekend that my significant other and I got engaged. I guess you can say that Portland is where I started the next chapter of my life, with my Maine Squeeze.


HIMYS Recommends Austin Eats: SXSW Edition (Very Belated Part Two)

A few months ago, I posted Part One recommendations of Austin restaurants that I felt were staples to the city (aka a place that as a tourist or a local, you should try). However, although I started writing this post at the same time that I wrote SXSW Edition Part One, for a variety of personal reasons, I was unable to finish it until today. What follows is a list of newer establishments that are worthy of becoming staples in the city or are generally just really good places to make a pit stop. While Austin is a foodie’s paradise, these may not be the fanciest of establishments but I believe your belly will thank you later. Enjoy!

BBQ: Franklin’s

Started as a food truck, Franklin’s is one of those restaurants that people rave about so much, you can’t help think: is this just hype? Let me tell you. It’s not. The meat is amazing. The brisket melts (that’s right, MELTS) in your mouth. The ribs fall off the bone. Of course, there are a few catches to any crazy popular restaurant in Austin. Franklin’s serves until it runs out of meat. Which means that you have to get there early and there is always a line. The last time I went to Franklin’s, I waited four hours to get inside and order. So, when you go, make it a good visit – get food to eat there and get some to go. The second catch, I’m personally not a huge fan of the side dishes. BUT – go for the meat and you won’t be disappointed.

As with any BBQ place, it’s easy to let your eyes be bigger than your stomach. You may just want to expect that this will either be your only meal of the day or you are going to have the meat sweats like no other. If you’re just in town for a short amount of time, and want to try all that Franklin’s has to offer, I actually recommend the Tipsy Texan sandwich. It includes brisket and sausage with loads of sauce – and don’t forget to ask for the cole slaw on top. (As a bonus, Texas Monthly recently ranked this as Franklin’s as the top BBQ restaurant in the world…so you know, it’s gotta be good.)

Comfort Food: Gordough’s

Yet another restaurant that started as a food truck, Gordough’s is definitely a place for comfort food with a twist. Most of what you find at Gordough’s is actually created with homemade donuts. Keep in mind, this isn’t just a donut shop. Imagine getting your sandwich made with a garlic donut instead of a roll. That’s what you’re going to find at Gordough’s – delicious dishes with a creative twist!

Food Truck: East Side King 

I am a huge Top Chef fan and I’ve been dying to try Top Chef: Texas winner Paul Qui’s group of food trucks East Side King. If you’re looking for asian street food, I’ve heard that East Side King is a must. The location I read about most recently was at the Shangri-La but you can also find these trucks at the Liberty Bar, the Grackle and the Hole in the Wall. If you’ve ever attempted to go to a Top Chef contestant or winner’s restaurant, you know that it can be incredibly difficult but it’s usually worth the wait. Since I haven’t personally tried East Side King food or been to a location yet, I can’t guarantee that you won’t have a wait but I’ve always been under the impression that food trucks are more accessible. So if you’re looking for something a little different, East Side King is where it’s.

American: Black Sheep Lodge

Located on South Lamar, Black Sheep Lodge has been a frequent lunchtime stop when I’ve visited Austin. It’s got a laid back atmosphere and definitely gives you the feeling of one of those great neighborhood bars. But it’s not the beer selection that caught my heart. It was the food. I love good fried pickles (slices not spears) — and Black Sheep doesn’t disappoint when it comes to this delicious treat. In addition, you’ll always find delectable sandwiches or burgers, which get an extra star for the option of tots on the side. Black Sheep is definitely an All American food locale where you can find your favorite variety of burgers or sandwiches always cooked to perfection.

What do you think? Any restaurants that you would recommend be added to this list or disagree with any included? Leave a message in the comments section.


HIMYS Recommends Austin Eats: SXSW Edition (Part One)

While I always discuss my travels or talk about new Boston events or restaurants I’ve encountered on this blog, I was thinking about this great time of year: time for the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin. For me, it’s hard to ignore the festival – and it really got me missing Austin. Now that the commotion is dying down, I thought this would be a good time to throw out a few restaurants musts including some staples (part one) and some new hot eats I’ve been reading about or heard good reviews on (part two). Clearly, this isn’t a complete list of my restaurant recs since there are so many incredible places to eat, this is at least a good starting place for those making a trip to the ATX.

Austin Staples (aka from the Travel Book or Local Recs for First Timers)

BBQ: The Salt Lick

Of course, if you’re making a trip to the ATX and you’re looking for great barbeque, you’ve got to try the the Salt Lick. My personal recommendation is to take some time to visit the original in Driftwood. It’s not far outside the City but you’ll definitely need to devote a few hours for this. The great thing about the original location, is that it’s very classic, picturesque Texas Hill Country. Two things to keep in mind: it’s BYOB and cash only! If you’re looking to bring wine though, check out the winery up the street from the Salt Lick.

Mexican: Chuy’s

Chuy’s is a quirky Tex-Mex restaurant is trademark Austin, and by quirky, we’re talking from decorations to the massive burritos. This is another restaurant, like Salt Lick, that you can find multiple locations of because, well, it’s just that popular. If you get stuck on the details, the original is the Barton Springs location – which if you’re visiting for Austin City Limits or heading to the Trail of Lights in the winter, is pretty close to where the action is. Chuy’s is just great Tex-Mex. Pure and simple. Austin is full of amazing Tex-Mex restaurants though but I like to think that Chuy’s is good for those looking for somewhere to set the bar. My personal recommendation, whether you have an enchilada or “Big As Your Face” burrito (which is totally worth the belly ache), go with the deluxe tomatillo sauce.

Comfort Food: Kerbey Lane

I have a confession. I used to be skeptical about Kerbey Lane. It was a destination in college that I always had a bad experience with, particularly the location near the UT campus. That all changed the day I visited the original location on Kerbey Lane. Started in a cute house on what probably used to be a quiet street, Kerbey Lane is probably best known for its fantastic breakfast fare – which is available at pretty much any time of day (i.e. it’s open late). The pancakes are to die for and when I venture to Austin for trips, I always pick up some mix. If you’re not really in the mood for breakfast, try the Kerbey Queso (cheese queso with guacamole in the middle). I think that Kerbey Lane is a great way to either start or end your day. Quick tip: Sunday’s can be packed – so get there early if you need to park at the original location.

Comfort Food/Southern Staple: Broken Spoke

Most Austinites know the Broken Spoke for its two-stepping, as it is a dance hall. What I later learned, after being introduced by a fellow Bostonian, was that the Chicken Fried Steak was probably some of the best you’ll ever have. Similar to the Salt Lick, if you’re looking for a traditional Texas experience, this is your place. This is a ten gallon hats, belt buckle and cowboy boots kind of place. Funny enough, it’s in an area of Austin that’s being flooded by new mixed use condo/retail units. However, the experience straight from the gravel driveway around the restaurant to the huge plates of chicken fried steak remains the same: a classic.

Kerbey Lane Pancakes!

What are your favorite staple restaurants in Austin? Leave them in the comment section below.


Activity Time: Shuck It To Me!

North End Fish Market

North End Fish Market

When I first moved to Boston, I reviewed a lot of materials about a variety of fun activities around the city. One activity that caught my attention, but kinda scared me, was oyster shucking. First, you must know a little secret: I actually didn’t like oysters until I moved here. However, I love seafood and figured that oysters would just be a natural fit for me. What better place to learn about how to eat and prepare a proper oyster than Boston, right?

Well, that was a much more difficult feat than I initial anticipated. It was hard to find brave souls that already enjoyed eating them – and trying various kinds of oysters soon became a regular activity during visits from out of town friends. As I initially suspected, I did love oysters and soon started to assemble a short list of local friends who shared my secret obsession. One of whom mentioned on New Year’s Eve how much they wanted to learn to shuck. It seemed that the opportunity had arrived!

A month ago, this friend and I took a stroll down to the North End Fish Market to try out a free shucking class. The fish market is a small location on Salem St. (parallel to Hanover) and was started by two women who were tired of their day jobs and wanted to do something they truly loved.

In the market, they sell fresh and pre-prepared fish, as well as sushi and some sides. The shucking class is held every Saturday, between 1 to 3 pm, and it usually takes around 15 or so minutes. The best part? You only pay for what you shuck! There is no additional fee to learn. You can also grab a nice bottle of wine and bring it with you – which of course I did.

Despite what I thought about shucking before, I now know that it’s much harder than it looks. It’s also really easy to cut yourself (which I was thankful I did not do). Our instructor and the owner kept telling us that it wasn’t about strength – it was about the force and opening it depended on where the pressure was being placed. Also, the owners noted that opening oysters worked your core – can you say bonus?

The oysters that we shucked and ate were so flavorful that they just needed a squirt of lemon juice. Though, it was a little weird to learn that the oysters were technically still alive when we were shucking and eating them. I’m not sure why I didn’t realize that before though.

I managed to come away from the class with a new found respect of oyster bars – and with a belly full of some fresh, delicious seafood in my belly. If you are looking for an activity in the North End, and are fond of oysters, I would absolutely recommend the class (and my friend noted that she thought it was a great place for an adventurous date).


HIMYS Looks Back to Look Forward

Last year, I made a few resolutions for myself … well, not exactly resolutions, more like goals (if you don’t already know, I hate resolutions – I prefer to think about a to do list or goals). These related to places I wanted to visit or try within the New England area. The list below is from my post last January, and I’ve crossed off those activities, venues or restaurants I was able to get to in 2012:

Food:

  1. Blue Ribbon
  2. Firefly
  3. Erbaluce
  4. Orinoco
  5. Regal Begal
  6. Giacomo’s
  7. South End Buttery
  8. Bee Hive
  9. Silvertone
  10. The Capital Grille

 Places/Activities:

  1. Harpoon or Sam Adams Brewery Tour
  2. Bunker Hill
  3. Visit Maine or Rhode Island
  4. Boston Public Library
  5. Marathon Monday
  6. Fall Foliage/Leaf Peeping
  7. Corn Maze
  8. Haunted Boston Bus Tour
  9. Celtics or Bruins Game
  10. Institute of Contemporary Art

When I look back at the places I wanted to visit or cross off my list, it doesn’t seem that impressive. However, I do feel like I got to experience quite a bit in 2012 that wasn’t on my list – likely because I hadn’t even thought about it. For example, rather than the Harpoon brewery, I visited Red Hook up in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and got to try a delicious lobster roll from the Beach Plum. I also went camping up in Maine and tried a ridiculous amount of local eateries around the Boston area, that weren’t necessarily even on my radar. I also got to be a part of two weddings for some of my closest friends, visit places I haven’t been to (and ended up getting stuck in) *cough* San Francisco, and return to places I love like Minnesota, Texas and Disney! It was a full and fulfilling year, for sure. 

While 2012 was amazing, I’m looking forward to checking off a few more of the items above in 2013 (and going beyond this). If I learned anything last year, it’s that you have to be open to the unexpected and ready to embrace it. So, here I am, ready, willing and hungry! 


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